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Archive for January, 2012

Skunked

We have a nice little office in our alpaca barn. It has a raised floor and a small heater in it; it works really well for storing the feed and supplies and is a good place to warm up when the barn temperature is below freezing. I guess, under the raised floor it is pretty nice too; at least that is what the skunks think.

For the third time, in so many years, we have had skunks take up residence under our barn office. The idea of having them there doesn’t bother me but when something agitates them and they spray …YUK! The whole office permeates of their deadly perfume. It takes days to air it out.

Last year we successfully live trapped a pair of skunks and relocated them to distant woods. I didn’t realize they stayed in pairs until last year. We thought we had blocked off their access to the office basement but we were mistaken. There was just enough space to create a nice little tunnel in this fall.

As it worked last year, we again set the trap to capture our new residents. Canned dog food works really well to lure them into the trap. Of course the first night was cold and they didn’t take the bait. Last night was warmer and we again successfully trapped one. It did rain all morning, so the skunk was not only unhappy about being trapped but soaked as well.

One down. One to go?

Now I have had people tell me lots of things about how a skunk won’t spray if … none have proven to be true. Not only will the skunk spray, and spray often, but the spray is oil based and seems to travel through the air and get into everything. Right now my nose is burning with that lovely perfume of theirs. Everything I am wearing will head to the washer and me to the shower to tone down the odor.

If the same is true as last year, I still have one more skunk to trap this week. Wish me luck!!

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Unexpected Events

1997 - 2012

On the ranch there are always unexpected things happening. Sometimes you can figure out why or what happened and at other times they take you completely by surprise. Saturday we had one of those events.

My day started out as usual with normal barn clean-up and feeding. It was a beautiful day and everything was as normal. After all the cleaning is done I carry hay outside for the alpacas to graze on. The ladies all crowded around as I came into their pen, each trying to get a bite as I walked by. Ebony, our herd matriarch, was the first in line. They followed me out, as usual, and I left them munching away.

Around noon I headed back to the barn for hay replenishment. I was heading to town to run some errands and wouldn’t be back until dinner time. The lady alpacas were still outside so I took the hay down to them and they came around to eat. I headed back to the barn to feed the boys. As I passed by the lady’s pen I noticed Ebony was lying near the door and looked uncomfortable. I went in to check and she looked like she might have eaten too much and had a stomach ache. A few of her pen mates noticed her too and acted a little odd around her.

Knowing I had to run my errands, I made sure she was not blocking the door and was resting fairly comfortably. I would check on her as soon as I returned. There really wasn’t much to do but wait and see how she would be later in the afternoon.

I made it back to the ranch and headed to the barn late afternoon. Ebony was still near the door and in a cush position. Usually that is a good sign for an alpaca. The pen mates were picking on her a little so I decided to move her to private area in the barn. She wouldn’t get up and walk; not a good sign. I managed to get her moved and made her as comfortable as possible. After cleaning up the stalls, I noticed she was taking a turn for the worse.

Ebony was over 14 years old and had been having difficulty putting her weight on the last year or so. We had taken her out of the breeding program, because of that, and just let her graze and enjoy her herd life. We had already decided not to take any extreme measures if she were to fail in health. That may sound cruel, but on the ranch you have to make some difficult but wise decisions. I made Ebony as comfortable as I could and put some extra straw around her for bedding and warmth and I sat with her, stroking her neck and assuring her everything would be all right. She always was a good alpaca and easy to handle. It was my pleasure to spend this time with her. I stayed with her until dark.

In the morning on arriving at the barn I found Ebony had gone and was sure she was now grazing in lush, green pastures. It wasn’t that we lost her that surprised me; it was how quickly things turned from good to bad. My vet has told me that by the time you know something is wrong with an alpaca it is usually too late. They seldom show their pain or sickness. I don’t think I will ever get used to losing one of these lovely creatures. I am grateful for the wonderful memories each of them gives me.

Ebony, I will miss you.

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The Great Escape

We have several sayings on the ranch. One I always say to volunteers and helpers is “never trust an alpaca”. It is not that alpacas are bad or untrustworthy by nature; they just take advantage of opportunities presented to them.

A good example of this is an open or ajar gate. The gate doesn’t have to be latched for the alpacas to think of it as closed but it does have to be in the closed position. As soon as it gets bumped or the wind blows it slightly open, it becomes a door of opportunity. I am normally pretty careful and double check myself. There have been plenty of times I failed to latch and been surprised on my next trip to the barn. This was one of those days.

I don’t even remember going through that open gate … which leads me to always wonder if the alpacas are smarter than they let on. Going through my normal morning routine of cleaning, I made my way to the mature male pen. Usually it is not empty and I have to move them out of my way to clean. It was a gorgeous morning though and I thought the guys were just outside grazing. That is exactly what they were doing but in the adjacent pasture! It is winter time and the grass is just barely green but they didn’t care. Here was an opportunity to find new grass and eat everything in sight. Not even the tempting feed bucket could lure them back into the barn.

Fortunately the pen they were now grazing was next to the juvie boys so they weren’t going to cause any havoc being there. I decided to finish the cleaning and get everyone else fed then deal with the truant males. With my feed bucket in hand I made my way into the pasture to entice who I could. Not quite as well as the piper, I did manage to get a small contingent to follow me to the barn. It was back to the pasture to try and herd the remaining ones in. A pasture can seem larger as you travel it back and forth to reign in the strays. I could have skipped my morning exercises if I had known what the day held.

All ended well and the gate was successfully latched. I still don’t remember going through that gate and I know those male alpacas were having a great time at my expense. I could see the smirks on their faces as I passed them by. Maybe I should consider a web cam (with a recorder) and see if they are smarter than I think they are.

Don’t forget to check those gates!

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